Oslo, Quadrant and the Repository is dead, long live “M”?

What the community (me included) has hoped and feared at the same time and what many foresaw, happened: Microsoft discontinued it’s investment in SQL Modeling Services (aka “Oslo” Repository) as well as “Quadrant”, as Don Box states on the Model Citizen Blog.

One important aspect of that focus is that we will not bring “Oslo” repository to market.

The Winners on the data-side of things are OData and the Entity Framework including EDM.

Given the increasing adoption of both OData and EDM, we have decided to focus our investments in those technologies to make our modeling vision a reality.

But Don also states, that Micrsosoft will further invest in the modeling language codenamed “M”, which also was a former part of Oslo, but clearly didn’t fit into the “SQL” rebranding right from the beginning.

While we used “M” to build the “Oslo” repository and “Quadrant,” there has been significant interest both inside and outside of Microsoft in using “M” for other applications. We are continuing our investment in this technology and will share our plans for productization once they are concrete.

I think, all together this is good news. Both the Repository and Quadrant were very far away from what I consider useful.

Hopefully the “M” team moves over to DevDiv into the ScottGu-Area. Hopefully it then returns to collaborative language design, now that the internal goals are removed.  Hopefully, Microsoft also now listens’ to the modeling community when designing the final language. And hopefully they bring great Visual Studio Support for textual DSLs.

Hey Microsoft, what about open sourcing “M”? This would be a huge step forward, after this very huge step backwards!

What is left of Microsoft “Oslo”? What now with SQL Server Modeling? (Early 2010)

Back in October 2008 Microsoft announced “Oslo” as a new and world-changing modeling platform. While it always consisted of a language, an editor and a repository the community seemed to be mostly interested in the language “M” and it’s grammar features for creating new domain specific languages.

The feedback could be summarized to:

Great! We love model-driven. We love DSLs. But why the heck SQL?

After that they got engaged with that community. Chris hosted the DSL Dev Con. And Doug released “M” under the Open Specification Promise and founded the “M” Specification Community. Mathew Wilson implemented M in JavaScript. Hugo Brunelier elaborated on the possibilities of bridging it with Eclipse Modeling.

Many wrote, spoke and blogged about it. The fellow hope was, that Microsoft could bring model-driven development to a broader audience and by that increase both productivity and quality in software development.

For that community the renaming of “Oslo” to SQL Server Modeling was a slap in the face. Many stated that they were disappointed by Microsoft’s decisions.

Let’s look into the reasoning and the real consequences of that rename.

Even though I think it was a wise decision business-wise both the timing and the messaging was really bad.

The Repository and “Quadrant” were closely tied to SQL right from the beginnings of “Oslo”. The schema, constraints and functions part of “M” had and mostly still has only one implementation: also SQL.

But the languages part of “M” also referenced to as “MGrammar” had nothing to do with SQL at all and it still doesn’t have much to do with it today either.

“M” should have been split out from “Oslo” before the rename and everybody would have been happy.

So where is this going now?

“M” and “Quadrant” today are still code names. The only thing that has a final name is the repository part of “Oslo” which is now named SQL Server Modeling Services. And I think we agree that that is a OK name.

Most probably “M” will not become SQL Server Modeling M and neither will “Quadrant” be named SQL Server Modeling Quadrant.

I think the final “M” will be as much SQL as Entity Framework and OData are SQL today. All those are developed within the same group and I expect it to merge anyway.

“Quadrant” will probably replace the part in SQL Server Management Studio that enables browsing and editing of SQL data – which is horrible today anyway. It also has the potential of replacing Access as a platform for Information Workers.

And maybe some day we’ll see ideas from “Quadrant” in Excel.

Future of DSL Development with Microsoft Tools

Visual: There was a hope, that “Quadrant” could be a better DSL Toolkit. Those teams didn’t talk to each other, but now they do. I think MS gave up on visual DSLs with “Quadrant”. Instead we’ll see the DSL Toolkit getting more attention. In some Demos at PDC we saw diagrams in Visual Studio working together with SQL Server Modeling. That were already DSL Tools operating on “M” models.

Textual: “M” is at maximum a third of the “Oslo” vision. And the languages part again is only a subset of “M”. Maybe that helps seeing the priorities in the big context.

But still the commitment is alive. The November CTP has some great new features. For example more powerful “M” projections for grammar rules or basic debugging support.  Probably some day this will merge with the DSL Tools and we’ll have both graphical and textual DSLs support right within Visual Studio. I think and hope that the connection to SQL will not be very strong in the future.

Model-driven Development

As often when Microsoft starts (mis)using existing terms they or at least many of their employees just don’t get it. At least not in the first place.

An application that uses “M” to define the M in MVC is not automatically model-driven. It’s just a normal application that operates on data as most applications do. If you want to argue like that, then every C# file and all SQL table rows are models.

In my perception model-driven is, when models become part of the implementation. The Workflow Foundation is a good example for what model-driven means. You model something that is the source of truth for your application – instead of C# code.

If tools help building things like the workflow foundation based on either visual or textual DSLs, using interpreters or code generation, then they truly support the vision of model-driven software development.

“M” Samples Review: One-to-Many vs. Many-to-One

Isn’t this title funny? I like it 🙂

As I browse through the samples for the SQL Server Modeling CTP I find a lot of odd “M” code. This is sad, because Microsoft should know how to write “M” code. They are inventing it. Sure I’m expressing my personal opinion, but I think I have no hard time finding people that agree with me.

Why I do this in the “public”? Because I care! I like M and it’s concepts. For me M has the potential to become a great replacement for a variety of technologies. Most of all XSD, and maybe parts of SQL. That it comes with a SQL-code-generator is nice, though. But not too exciting. I still hope that the team adjusts their current direction. But more on that in a longer post 🙂

I’ll just start with one of the first samples I found:


It comes with four M-Files:







So, what again is the difference between one-to-many and many-to-one?

OneToMany.m and ManyToOne.m

Well, this is OneToMany.m:

// original OneToMany.cs
module OneToMany {
    type A {
        Id : Integer32 => AutoNumber();
    } where identity Id;
    type B {
         A : A; 
    } where value.A in As;
    As : {A*};
    Bs : {B*};  

And this is ManyToOne.m:

// original ManyToOne.m
module ManyToOne {
    type A {
         B : B;  
    } where value.B in Bs;
    type B {
        Id : Integer32 => AutoNumber();
    } where identity Id;
    As : {A*};  
    Bs : {B*};

Do you spot the difference? I do! It would be easier to see, if we changed the ordering on the second one. Now compare this to the first one.

// reordered ManyToOne.m
module ManyToOne {
    type B {
        Id : Integer32 => AutoNumber();
    } where identity Id;
    type A {
         B : B;  
    } where value.B in Bs;
    Bs : {B*};
    As : {A*};

Do you see it now? Exactly. The XPath-function translate(‘AB’, ‘BA’) would have done the job! There is exactly NO difference between except for A and B switched around!

Usually the relationship the sample tries to illustrate is called one-to-many, even though in relational databases the reference goes from the many to one.

The funny part is over. Lets look at one-to-one and many-to-many.


This is OK. Although I do not like how coupled the code is. If I used the same style to express the same intent in C# people would blame me for violating every single principle we have learned over the past couple of years. I’ll write about what bothers me here in another post sometime.

// original OneToOne.m
module OneToOne {
    type A {
        Id : Integer32 => AutoNumber();
    } where identity Id;

    type B {
        A : A where value in As;
    } where unique A;
    As : {A*};
    Bs : {B*};


// original ManyToMany.m
module ManyToMany {
    type A {
        Id : Integer32 => AutoNumber();
    } where identity Id;
    type B {
        Id : Integer32 => AutoNumber();
    } where identity Id;
    As : {A*};
    Bs : {B*};  

    type AB
        ReferencedA : A;
        ReferencedB : B;
    } where value.ReferencedA in As && value.ReferencedB in Bs;
    ABs : {AB*};    

What is that. Natural modeling? What you really want to say is, that A has a n2m-Relationship with B, right? Now tell me, how this M-code is any better than SQL! It does not raise the level of abstraction, at least! IMHO this is not a solution for something that claims to be a modeling language, it’s a hack.

In“M” when you model something that naturally would be called a hierarchy or containment, the SQL compiler projects it as n2m anyway.

Relationship vs. Reference

Actually M doesn’t really support relationships (or associations) at all today. It just knows about references. What the difference is?

I’m not too sure if I get it right, but I’ll try.

A relationship is always coherent and integer. Something both sides agree on.


A reference, though, is just something holding on something else.

detlef_46983[1] @Pitopia, Detlef

In relational databases relationships are modeled using references plus constraints.

So for example saying to the man, that he isn’t allowed to move as long as this baby holds his finger, you would enforce something that could be called an relation.


I think samples of this quality rather chase away people than buying them into the language. The language team should review all the documentation and samples. They should discuss them and give good guidance.

What I’ve seen so far is rather bad guidance.

Update: Also check out the MSDN Documentation on Relationships. It’s at least better than the samples. (found it after I wrote this post)

Migrating WBS from “Oslo” to SQL Server Modeling

I finally found some time to migrate two of my pet projects from the “Oslo” May CTP to the new SQL Server Modeling November 2009 CTP. I didn’t publish the sources so far, but I will soon.

Work Breakdown Structure

The first application that I want to migrate is a so-called work-breakdown-sheet (WBS). Originally it was a Excel sheet containing tasks and task estimates. Some smart calculations apply a set of statistics to give a forecast that is as close as possible to the real effort required.

The technologies I wanted to try out with that were mostly “Quadrant” and the “Repository”, now SQL Server Modeling Services. Also I wanted to test the team on their ambitious goal to make something that gets close to the experience of Access in ease of use.

The project contains of a set of “M”-based models and functions as well as some basic “Quadrant” customization. No plain old C# code needed, so far.

The basic domain model expressed in M (May CTP):

type Project {
    Name : Text;

type Story {
    Name : Text;
    Project : Project;

type TaskGroup {
    Name : Text;
    Story : Story;

type Task {
    Description : Text;
    Comment : Text?;
    Group : TaskGroup;

type Estimate {
    BestCase : Double;
    AverageCase : Double;
    WorstCase : Double;
} where value.BestCase < value.AverageCase
     && value.AverageCase < value.WorstCase; 

I’ll write an introduction to the project soon. But now, I’ll just log the changes I had to make in order to be able to get it running on the new CTP.

The Project File

In May, both Visual Studio and Intellipad used a *.mproj-File to collect multiple models in a project. In November this is embedded in a *.csproj-File. The easiest thing was to create a new “Oslo Library” in VS 2010 and just add the files that previously were linked in Wbs.mproj.s

Now I got the project both in Visual Studio 2010 and in Intellipad:



Now lets build.

Syntax Changes

Lets walk through the errors I get, and how the syntax has to be changed to fix them.

  • First surprise. Intellipad builds the project without complaining. Well this message still leaves me unconfortable: Skipping target "MCompileCore" because all output files are up-to-date with respect to the input files.

So lets switch over to VS. The Messages I get are:

  • Error: Expected a ‘;’ to finish the extent declaration.
  • Error: Expected a ‘;’ to finish the computed value declaration or a ‘{‘ to start its body.
  • Warning: The ‘item’ expression is being deprecated. Please replace with an appropriate ‘value’ expression.

Those were easy to fix. Although the error messages look more explaining then they are.

Actually both first errors had to do with the new collection syntax. This goes for extent declarations as well as functions. This, for example:

TaskEstimates() :  PersonalTaskEstimate* {
    from e in RawTaskEstimates
    select MixEstimates(CalculateEstimate(e), e)

Needs to be changed to:

TaskEstimates() :  {PersonalTaskEstimate*} {
    from e in RawTaskEstimates
    select MixEstimates(CalculateEstimate(e), e)

The warning about the deprecated item keyword in:

RawStories : (Story & HasFolderAndAutoId)*
        where item.Project in RawProjects;

is solved by using value plus making sure, that the constraint goes inside the collection.

RawStories : {((Story & HasFolderAndAutoId) 
    where value.Project in RawProjects)*};

After having fixed those I get a next set of errors:

  • The left-hand side ‘value.BestCase’ of ‘in’ must  be compatible with the collection element type ‘LifelikeEstimateNumber’.

This seems to be a implicit change enforced by the new type checker in the current CTP. This is the “invalid” code:

type LifelikeEstimateNumber : Double where value < 24
    || value in SomeFibonacciNumbers;
type SomeFibonacciNumbers : {55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610};

The problem here is, that the compiler doesn’t infer that SomeFibonacciNumbers actually is a collection of Doubles. So we have to tell her.

There are different ways to do so. We can either ascribe the first value in the collection to a Double by writing:

{55: Double, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610}

or we could ascribe the whole collection to a collection of Doubles

{55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610} : {Double*}

or we can mix it with a collection of Doubles:

{55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610} & {Double*}

I don’t really know, what the differences will be. I’ll just go for the last one, because it looks so nice 🙂

Project References

The next problem is, that my references to models from the “Repository” and “Quadrant” can’t be found. Sure, I didn’t copy the references from the mproj-file, either. As described here, you now have to reference dll files instead of the mx-files that where needed in May.

In my case, I needed a reference to “C:\Program Files\Microsoft Oslo\1.0\bin\Repository.dll” in order to support the SQL Server Modeling Services type HasFolderAndAutoId.

Now all the “M” code seems to be ok. The only thing is, that some concepts do not compile to SQL.

For this code:

type LifelikeEstimateNumber : Double where value < 24
    || value in SomeFibonacciNumbers;
type SomeFibonacciNumbers : {55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610} & {Double*};

type TaskEstimate : (Estimate & {
    Task : Task;
}) where value.BestCase in LifelikeEstimateNumber
    && value.AverageCase in LifelikeEstimateNumber
    && value.WorstCase in LifelikeEstimateNumber;

i get the following error for each occurence in the last three constraints:

  • Not yet implemented: There is no SQL expression generator to handle the expression ‘TypeRef: Reference, resolve to get the target’.

It seems, that the constraint expressions can’t handle types completely. I’ll just refactor that to an inline expression plus an extent for the allowed high estimates:

AllowedHighTaskEstimates : {Double*} {
    55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610};

type TaskEstimate : (Estimate & {
    Task : Task;
}) where 
    (value.BestCase < 24 
        && value.BestCase in AllowedHighTaskEstimates)
    && (value.AverageCase < 24 
        && value.AverageCase in AllowedHighTaskEstimates)
    && (value.WorstCase < 24 
        && value.WorstCase in AllowedHighTaskEstimates);

Build succeeded!

Well I cheated a little bit, because I removed the models that drive the quadrant customization. But since those have changed completely anyway, I’ll just rebuild the requirements.


For the May CTP I had a bunch of batch files to manage the build and deploy process. This was also, because I had to install a external SQL function before deploying my module. Lets see how this works with the deployment integration in Visual Studio 2010.

I configured the connection string in the M Deploy settings to a local database called ‘WbsTestRepository’. But trying to deploy the solution fails with a couple of errors. It seems, that the repository is not deployed automatically, allthough I added a project reference.

Repository Issues

In Wbs I want to use the Repository (now SQL Server Modelling Services) Rolders as well as the catalog which stores data about my models.

You still need to install the “Repository” on your database using the command line. This should be necessary only once, though.

The commands I ran were (described here):

'create a clean db
mx create /d:WbsTestRepository /s:.\SQLExpress /force
'install the rep
mx install Repository.mx /database:WbsTestRepository /server:.\SQLExpress

But now redeploying in VS yields another expected error:

  • error M6040: Sql Exception: Cannot find either column "itemis.Wbs" or the user-defined function or aggregate "itemis.Wbs.Power", or the name is ambiguous.

Wbs needs the power-function to compute some values. Since M doesn’t know about it, and neither can express it natively, I had to model an so called extern:

extern Power(Expression : Double, Power : Integer32) : Double;

This just makes a concept available to M that has to be implemented in SQL. Since we want to ensure this in the installation, we have to compile it along with the M files. This is done by adding a SQL file containing the “create function [itemis.Wbs].[Power] …” script and set the compile action to “MPreSql”.

As I almost expected, redeploying the model doesn’t work. I’ll post a workaround for that soon.

  • error M6040: Sql Exception: The module ‘itemis.Wbs’ is already present in the database.

But for now we just put the two lines in a batch file to recreate a fresh repository before each deploy.

The next problem I run into is:

  • Sql Exception: Target folder must be specified.

There are two ways to add a target folder to your initial values. The documented one suggests adding your Folder to the FoldersTable and then specifying that value in every single instance. The much cleaner and simpler is, too set the target folder globally for the whole project.

Since there is no Visual Studio support for that, you have to add this property to the csproj-File manually:


You will also have to create the folder along with the repository every time you deploy, using the following command:

mx createFolder "Repository/Wbs" /database:WbsTestRepository /server:.\SQLExpress

The next thing is some complaints about my constraints on TaskEstimate. Since I have no time left, and those constraints should be weak, instead of hard CHECK constraints anyway, I’ll just comment them "away” for now.

Deployed successfully.

Wonderful. Now lets go to “Quadrant” and see, how we can make use of the model with it’s sample data.



It were not really the syntax changes that made trouble, but rather the integration with Visual Studio. I had a couple of simple customizations for Quadrant, but I’ll rewrite them soon.

The only comment I have to make so far, is, that it is totally unacceptable to have a development cycle that takes more than 5 seconds from M over compile, deploy and look at the changes in Quadrant. Now it takes more than 30 seconds.

Future Plans

I’ll probably elaborate more on WBS next week. I’ll also migrate my DSL pet project called “Web Layout DSL” and integrate it with a MVC Client Application over WBS.

So stay tuned.

PDC 2009 – .NET Developers Short Review and Bleeding Edge Download Links

This years PDC was great. I think the big deal this year was “Integration”. I’ve never seen so many bits working together at such an early state.

I’ll walk through what I’ve seen and provide some detailed information plus the corresponding downloads I’ve found. It is insane, how many CTPs and Betas Microsoft offers right now.

These are the topics I will cover. Click to jump to the corresponding section.

Visual Studio 2010 + .NET Framework 4

I’ll start with Visual Studio, because it spans all of it.

In the last years especially Visual Studio was lagging behind. It didn’t even have good support for debugging LINQ in C# – what could we then expect from integration with other products from Microsoft.

But now Visual Studio comes not only with an improved debugger, but also with many, many new project templates, enhanced deployment features for web and SharePoint, an extension manager bound to an online extension gallery, and many-many more features.

Maybe the reason for the more integrated development environment is the huge improvement in Visual Studio Extensibility. Download the SDK if you plan to write your own plugins.

If you want to know more about the “.NET Framework 4.0”, Google has a good coverage on “C# 4.0”, “Windows Workflow 4.0”, “Windows Communication Foundation 4.0”, “Entity Framework 4.0” …


Silverlight 4

Maybe the announcements around Silverlight 4 were the biggest. The Silverlight team has made incredible progress in the last couple years. With Silverlight 4 they seem to eliminate most of the drawbacks it had compared to WPF. I can’t see yet where this goes, but a Silverlight OS could absolutely be a nice answer to the Chrome OS. And then we are back to terminals and mainframes.

Among the new features are a better out-of-the-browser experience including full-trust mode. Also new is webcam and microphone access, a richtext/html editor and a browser control. The browser control can also embed flash. And it can be used as a brush, in other words, it lets you run YouTube videos while applying any Silverlight effects.


Entity Framework 4

After the entity framework came out in V1, many of the industry’s thought leaders called it a joke. The team has tried to incorporate most of that Feedback in EF V2 (Called V4 to align with .NET 4).

Together with the .NET Framework 4 Beta 2 and the Futures CTP you get code-only and model-first including SQL schema generation. There are also alot improvements in the designer and the query performance. Haven’t really checked out the details so far.


OData / WCF Data Services (neé “Astoria”)

The Open Data Protocol (OData) has been developed to support a convention-oriented REST-style API over data of any kind. It builds on atom/pub and adds optional metadata, querying and projections. Using the .NET OData Client (WCF Data Services) you can use LINQ against any OData source. Sharepoint 2010 will expose all data via OData. Any application that uses the Entity Framework can very simply expose it’s data over the protocol.

Also SQL Server Excel PoverPivot (neé Gemini) supports OData and lets you interact with huge amounts of data the Excel-way.


SQL Server Modelling (neé “Oslo”)

In a couple of sessions Doug, Chris, Don and Chris showed the new features in the November CTP. The team has made some progress, although it is easy to see, that they have much homework left. Some of the new features are the better Visual Studio Integration, a ASP.NET MVC project supporting “M” for the M in MVC, debugging support in DSLs, richer right-hand grammar productions, support for views in “Quadrant”. Also the Modeling Services where officially announced to be part of SQL Server in some future release.

I’ll spend a new post on more of the changes soon.

Also, today I think, that Quadrant will not replace the DSL Tools in Visual Studio. Those have made much progress and will rather be improved and merged with “M”.


Office and Sharepoint 2010

No matte who I asked, nobody liked SharePoint development so far. From what I’ve seen this might change in the future. There has been much focus on the developer experience for SharePoint customization. Deployment and packaging seems to be much more fluent, and the horrible SharePoint web service interfaces will be superseded by the new generic OData implementation over lists and libraries. There is also better support for embedding Silverlight, and Microsoft finally promises a good user experience even when using Firefox or Safari.

I just like Office 2010, but I haven’t done any customization for Office since the good old VBA times. I think the web-versions of Office built into SharePoint are really cool. They allow collaborative editing like in Google Docs. I’ll check out this stuff soon!


SQL Server 2008 R2

In the last couple of weeks I had to do a lot with SQL Server. The thing is, still devs do not care much about new SQL Server versions. They do rather talk about persistence ignorance. Even the Xml/XQuery implementations well the hosting of the CLR inside the SQL Engine did not really touch the developers hearts.

But often the heart of the application is data. And the more you have to do with it with fast response times, the closer you’ll have to operate on it. Another argument is, that Microsoft emerges the brand “SQL” from a relational RDBMS engine to a data platform including Analysis Services, Reporting, Integration Services, and so on …

Some of the new features are StreamInsight, the Excel PoverPivot plugin and more…


AppFabric (neé “Dublin” and “Velocity”)

“Dublin” was Microsofts promise to deliver a more manageable Application Server for .NET, WF and WCF solutions. But since it was announced there were no public CTPs or anything that we could have played around with.

At the same time “Velocity”, a memory cache, has had more publicity.

Those two are now merged in the AppFabric, promising a reliable host for the workflow foundation runtime and hopefully in the future a good replacement for NT services.

There have been rumors, that it enters the space of EAI, that BizTalk tried to cover so far. But the promise is, that they have different intents and will play nicely together.


Windows Azure

I’m not into it yet. But it looks promising. Let me just provide the links to the downloads I found.


.NET Service Bus

The .NET Service Bus is really interesting stuff. Somebody explained it as “Skype knowledge in a box”. This means, the .NET Service Bus helps you to set up secure duplex communication channels through firewalls and routers. It just leads your calls through the NAT jungle.

What you simply do, is creating a public namespace on “the internet”, where you then register your WCF service. Clients may then access your service through the Azure Cloud. Bye, bye DMZ!!

You can also use it to negotiate the connection details and then have it set up a direct TCP/IP connection between your server and the calling client.

In both modes, you’ll also be able to send messages to your clients, through all this expensive infrastructure that is intended to avoid those scenarios 🙂

The .NET Service Bus is part of the .NET Services SDK which also contains the Access Control Service and Workflow Services in the cloud.


Windows Identity Foundation (neé “Geneva”)

Federated claims-based security. Everybody is talking about it. After Microsoft tried to reach through with Card Space and Live ID, this finally seems to be their answer to OpenID.

I’ll definitely take some time digging into it. I’m also interested in how it interacts with the SQL Server Modeling Services for System.Identity.


    Windows 7

    Windows 7 is great! What I’m interested in most, is multi-touch. I think this will be the default for every monitor and notebook in just a couple of years.

    If you find any nice multitouch enabled applications, please give me a hint at http://multitouch-apps.com.


    Have fun!